I think I was convinced that I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set
Sloane Stephens is into her first Grand Slam semi-final after coming from behind to beat tournament favourite Serena Williams
The look on Sloane Stephens’ face said it all. The 19-year-old from Coral Springs, Florida had shocked not only herself but the 14,000 people inside Rod Laver Arena and the millions more watching on TV when she brought an end to Williams’ formidable 20-game winning streak to reach her first ever Grand Slam semi final, winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Not many had given Stephens a hope going into the match. Williams, gunning for a record-breaking sixth Australian Open title and the world No.1 ranking, hadn’t lost since August of last year and when the 31-year-old took the first set the scene was beginning to look all too familiar. But from a set and a break down something switched in Stephens, and she came back swinging.
“I think I was convinced that I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and I went down 2‑0,” she said. “I was like, ‘Hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen’. But you just fight and just get every ball back, run every ball down, and just get a lot of balls in play, I think you'll be okay.”
What materialized was more than just okay. The young American shifted Serena side-to-side, up-and-back, forcing the 15-time Grand Slam champion to not only move around on the injured ankle she sustained in the first round, but also to twist and turn the back that she locked up while running to a drop shot in the second set.
Stephens had never gone beyond the fourth round of a Slam and her passage to the semi final has guaranteed her a spot in the top 20 once the rankings are released next week. She is the highest ranked teenager in the world and after shaking hands with Williams, the player she has admired down the years, she did what most girls her age would do. She checked her phone.
“I couldn't really do anything because the messages were coming in, so I couldn't read like anything,” said Stephens, who’s win marked the first time Williams has ever loss to an American younger than her. “I was like, ‘Wait, this is pointless’. So I just put it down. But, yeah, I couldn't reach my mom. So I had to call my brother and he couldn't even talk. He was like freaking out. I was like, ‘Okay, where's mom?’ I was like, ‘Okay, never mind. Bye’.”
Stephens’ excitement at winning was only rivaled by her joy at having doubled her number of twitter followers. “I mean, I'm just excited,” she said. “And John Legend tweeted me. Dirk [Nowitski] tweeted me. I want John Legend to sing at my wedding. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. He tweeted me. What can I do?’ I don't know. I'm still thinking.”
Next up for Stephens is defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who must win in order to hold on to her world No.1 spot.
“Going to be a totally different match,” said Stephens. ‘I'm just going to go out and play my best, obviously. Do what I do really well and just play my game. Just hopefully, you know, play well again.”